BEREA — Kyle Shanahan’s greatest success as an offensive coordinator came in Washington in 2012 with a rookie quarterback named Robert Griffin III. It was the only time Shanahan’s gone with a rookie as the starter at the game’s most important position in his six years running an offense.
He could get the chance again in his first year in Cleveland, and believes he’s learned from the experience with RG3.
The Browns own the No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft in May and are expected to take a quarterback. Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles are the most prominent names mentioned.
“The most important thing is asking them to do what they’re great at and then working and improving on other aspects of their game,” Shanahan said Thursday after new Browns coach Mike Pettine introduced his three coordinators. “There are lots of ways you can win in this game. There are lots of ways to move the ball, lots of ways to score touchdowns. You don’t need a certain type of quarterback, you just want a good quarterback.”
Shanahan has worked with dozens of players, including multiple Pro Bowlers, in his six years as a coordinator. Griffin is the most fascinating.
He set numerous NFL rookie records, was named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Redskins made the playoffs and became the first team in league history to pass for 3,400 yards and rush for 2,700 yards in the same season. Shanahan modified his version of the West Coast Offense to include the pistol formation and read option to play to Griffin’s running ability.
“I’m very proud of that first year,” Shanahan said. “He arguably had one of the best years in NFL history for a rookie quarterback and I enjoyed coaching him.
“I was able to do some things with Robert that I hadn’t been able to do with other quarterbacks, and it was really fun to do. It challenged me because I had to do some things that I hadn’t done before, so I had to look at tape in a different way and try to put some different things in. I think that improved myself.”
That was 2012.
A year later Shanahan was fired along with head coach Mike Shanahan, his father. Griffin tore multiple knee ligaments, including the anterior cruciate, in the playoff loss to Seattle after the 2012 season. He returned in time for the 2013 regular season, but his production slipped, the Redskins went 3-13 and the relationship between Griffin and the Shanahans had become strained.
The Washington Post reported Griffin had trust issues before the torn ligament. He had suffered a sprain, missed a game, returned to the lineup and believed the play calling that featured designed quarterback runs put him at further risk.
“Anytime you go through a 3-13 season, it is a challenge. It’s a challenge on your relationship,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to deal with a lot of stuff, a lot of negativity, and the thing I learned going through that, especially with a high-profile guy, there’s a lot more stuff that comes out.
“Robert and I through a very tough time, we managed to keep our relationship through the year. I’m not going to say it was easy. But I do believe going through it, Robert and I, in the long run, it’ll make both of us better. I think when it’s all said and done and Robert and I look back on it, I’m really appreciative of some of the stuff he did for me, and I really believe he’ll be appreciative of some of the stuff I did for him.”
Pettine said he discussed the relationship with Griffin during Shanahan’s interview.
“He opened up about it and talked about it at length,” Pettine said. “It was something I didn’t think was an issue at all. He was very passionate about it.”
Pettine hadn’t worked with Shanahan, 34, but was impressed from the opposing sideline. He liked Shanahan’s ability and willingness to adapt the scheme to his personnel, his success running and throwing and his experience as coordinator. Pettine is a defensive coach who will rely on Shanahan to run the offense.
“Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in football,” Pettine said. “It’s going to be aggressive, very creative, but at the same time very fundamentally sound.
“One of the most appealing things about the offensive system is the play-action off the run. I think it’s critical when you’re in Northeast Ohio late in the year, your offense has to be all-weather, you have to be able to run the ball.”
Shanahan interviewed Jan. 29 and was hired Monday. A report at the time by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport said the interview didn’t go well, and a reporter Thursday asked Pettine if Shanahan had told CEO Joe Banner what he thought of the firing of coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season.
“To my knowledge, it did not happen,” Pettine said. “I was in there with Kyle for the interview part of it and I think it shocked both of us that it came out that he was Blunt Force Trauma in the interview and things didn’t go well.
“Joe came in and sat down and was in for part of the interview. But to my knowledge they did not have a private conversation.”
One of the last issues for Banner before hiring Pettine was being convinced he could assemble a strong staff. Shanahan was on the list of potential coordinators and one of the most experienced options available.
Pettine hired quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, tight ends coach Brian Angelichio and offensive line coach Andy Moeller before Shanahan because he didn’t want to lose them to another team. Shanahan said he was fine with that. He was able to bring some familiar faces, as receivers coach Mike McDaniel and offensive quality control coach Richard Hightower were added to the staff Thursday.
The Browns will almost certainly draft a quarterback, but veteran Brian Hoyer shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s expected to fully recover from a torn ACL and would like the starting job.
“I think Brian is a very capable guy,” Shanahan said. “You never really know. Everybody’s looking for one of those top-five guys. Obviously no one here has proven that they are one of those top-five guys, and that’s why that position’s probably harder than any position on the planet.
“But he has shown that he can play in this league, so you’ve got to see what his ceiling is and how high of a level he can reach. I’m not saying he is, but he has NFL tape and hasn’t shown that he can’t be. So I’m looking forward to studying more of the stuff he did here.”